What Members Say They Want vs. What They Actually Do


(Emily Cowan) #1

I manage a closed community for customer-experience professionals. When I took over a couple months ago it was a largely dormant community of about 50 members, so the first thing I did was ask those early adopters what they’re looking for from the community. The answers were pretty consistent, basically: “I want a community of professional peers where I can ask for help and feedback, discover new operational frameworks, and share insights.”

I’ve improved site functionality based on member feedback, increased the number of touchpoints for re-engagement with the site, and recruited a small number of community leaders to seed discussions, and…crickets. Maybe this is a situation where members just don’t see the value in the community (fair play), but when I talk to them offline they seem genuinely excited to participate. I’m not sure how to reconcile members’ enthusiasm with their total lack of engagement. Any ideas on how to proceed?

(Matt Mecham) #2

Hi Emily

There’s probably a dozen reasons enthusiasm isn’t converting to engagement.

What platform are you using for your community? There may be things that can be tweaked to encourage more engagement.

Do you send out a digest of the best content from the community regularly? Sometimes you just need to keep plugging away and showing up in people’s inboxes for them to remember to stop by and post.

Sometimes a fun topic can create engagement as it lowers the barrier in that your audience don’t need to think too hard.

You want to encourage a habit where your audience stops by regularly and that can take time especially when resurrecting a dormant community.

Keep plugging away.

(remah) #3

It sounds like they just want to be there for some other reason than what they profess. I imagine that their needs are being met in some other way. Perhaps, they are mainly there for status and exclusivity rather than community and participation. That’s the “C-suite” gift that keeps on giving. So, if that is the case, then can you use that insight as leverage?

If the current community doesn’t self-generate what they want then you may need to consider recruiting new members or new types of members to bring some new life and different behaviors.

I’ve seen the website and my first impression is that you meet-and-greet and get provided with information. The idea of an online community doesn’t seem to get much focus but then you’ve already said the community owners haven’t answer “Why?”

(Robert van Hoesel) #4

Hi Emily,

At the size of your community some successful communities we’re working with apply a more concierge model in the community. Meaning the community manager building strong 1-1 relationships with members and actively guiding them to contribute – the solution usually is not directly in the platform.

It’s great that you recruited members that are willing to seed content. There are some really non-scalable but effective ways to get something moving which you or your team can do.

Some suggestions, ranging from worst-case/most tedious to more organic and easy going.

  • Actively chasing members via mail or phone (‘there’s a new post I think you could respond to, I’m curious to hear your opinion’).
  • Ghost-writing or assisting members with suggestions of in depth contributions (‘I saw you did a talk on this event, could I repost your main slides in the community for you?’, ‘Can you share your thoughts on brexit?’)
  • Creating formats that make it easier for members to contribute. (‘what are the 3 most inspiring companies in our industry?’, ‘introduce yourself with your name, favorite past-time activity and how you entered the industry’), you could make tis repeatable formats (I.e. Feedback Friday)
  • Organizing community groups calls, on set moments, where people can join in and discuss in an easier setting with more trust (CMX Pro does this successfully).
  • Nudging members by mentioning them in comments to ask for their opinion or take on it.

Good luck!

(Emily Cowan) #5

Thanks @mattmecham - I do think the platform is a limitation here. We’re using Hivebrite, which generally caters to alumni organizations rather than professional groups, and the features and functionality seem a bit dated compared to the experience on typical social networking sites.

I do send out a digest of community highlights and I’ve rejiggered things to make maximum use of the site’s auto-generated notifications. Fingers crossed!

Thanks for the encouraging words :slight_smile:

(Emily Cowan) #6

You’re so right, @remah! The C-level membership is a plus in that you really can’t find another online platform to engage with CX execs at this level, but I do wonder if they’re too busy (or proud) to ask for feedback from their peers. Competition is an issue as well. We have members from Marriott, Hilton, and Choice Hotels in a single discussion group and I doubt they’re interested in sharing their frameworks - although who knows, I might be wrong.

The company I work for organized very successful live events for this rarified clientele and they’re looking to “continue the conversation” online. Our next big event is happening next month and I’ll be attending for the first time. I’m hoping to get some good intel!

(Emily Cowan) #7

Great tips, @robertvhoesel! So far I’m trying:

  • A weekly wrap-up email with community highlights
  • Conducting and posting in-depth interviews with key members
  • @mention members on-platform following an email or phone exchange whenever appropriate
  • (gently) arm-twisting my “superusers” to welcome via PM new members in the same sector
  • emailing my boss (a relatively well-known figure in the CX field) and asking him to jump in on specific posts

I’ve also implemented a three-email welcome series for on-boarding new members, which thanks to this platform must be sent out manually.

I agree that at this stage it’s all about working behind the scenes. Sadly, scalability is NOT a concern at the moment - but I hope it will be soon.

(Robert van Hoesel) #8

@ercowan75 – Of those approaches, which one do you see working well?

We see a growing number of customers and leads wanting to apply the same strategy (continuing the conversation only) with execs – and we have yet to see great examples of how to apply this in online communities. It’s hard but I don’t believe it’s impossible.

To try to answer your original question – have you also done deep research into the topics they would like to discuss? We host one community for execs in events – which I believe has some parallels with hospitality & experience. One strong point that came up is that the execs LOVE getting exclusive deals/trials/visits to vendors (i.e. amusement parks, locations, catering). It’s a key part of the content strategy to work with partners on gettings those deals and rewarding active members with them. It may come across as cheap or very commercial but it actually triggers strong engagement and business value for the platform owner.

(Emily Cowan) #9

@robertvhoesel it’s hard to say which strategy is yielding results but overall I can tell you the engagement needle is moving, albeit slowly. Example: Yesterday a new member posted a question about managing customer complaints, and in my comment I tagged all the community members with CRM expertise. Once of those members jumped in with a detailed answer - and she hasn’t signed onto the platform since August 3, the day she registered.

(Backstory: My company launched this community by sending an email to its entire subscriber list back in August and then did very little to build the platform, so most of my “founding members” are one-and-done. The fact that we’re getting sufficient momentum to see some of those folks come back is significant. Baby steps!)

I’ve organized the site around topic-specific groups that map loosely to job function (outsourcing, channel strategy, etc.) and so far that seem to be working well. Beyond simply reminding our tuned-out members that the platform event exists I’d say my main challenges are 1) getting folks to feel comfortable asking about potentially sensitive topics within their organizations and 2) getting folks to feel like they don’t have to be “experts” in a specific area to have valuable insights to share.

I am going for quality over quantity - thoughtful, insightful conversations among top CX execs is the value-add, not just tons of engagement - so I’ve got my superusers modeling that behavior as much as possible.

I’m totally with you on perks for community members! It’s been a challenge to integrate the community with the larger business because we’re already soliciting perks from our partners to offer at our live events and our marketing team doesn’t want to go too often to the well. In general, while I’m working hard to build organizational support, our marketing team seems to perceive a zero-sum game: the more active members are in the community, the less open they may be to the email marketing that forms the backbone of the business.

Are your exec communities open or closed? I’d love to hear more about your experiences working with closed communities, as this is my first time managing one. The exclusivity is certainly an asset but I struggle with the limitations on promoting the site to attract new members (we’re an invite-only platform). Building engagement is, to a large extent, a numbers game.

Thanks so much for your thoughtful replies!

(Josh Wolf) #10

I wanted to write a quick note to thank everybody who has contributed to this discussion. It is really helpful to read about your experiences, which sound very familiar. We have experimented with a lot of the approaches described above, including those clearly laid out by Robert and Emily. It has been a slow but steady process of finding ways to engage members, but it appears to be paying off as the type of engagement increases in depth and complexity.

One approach I will add is supporting members in creating ongoing engagement within smaller groups. We have found that it’s way easier for 5 or 10 members to engage with each other through the community around a shared interest, and we see that engagement then extending beyond the small group. So we are putting more energy into supporting those groups and fostering member leadership within them so that they can thrive independently of staff.

Oh, and also celebrating each others’ achievements. It may not be relevant for professional communities, but at our non-profit volunteers are super excited to hear about what other members are doing to create change in their communities.

Have a great day!

(Emily Cowan) #11

Hey @doctorj - thanks for joining the conversation! I love the idea of celebrating achievements. I had been thinking about doing an end-of-month “wins” post inviting members to share any successes they’ve achieved during that month, no matter how large or small. Have you set up a single thread for that on your site or do you post a new one occasionally?

(Josh Wolf) #12

@ercowan75, we encourage volunteers to post photos from their events. As that practice catches on, we have images coming in from around the world that help people feel part of a global community. We also invite super volunteers to write up a short news story about their activities, or we interview them and create a story based on that conversation, and we are going to begin incorporating those stories into a monthly newsletter.

(joitske) #13

Maybe they need more social connection? Balance f2f and online?

(Robert van Hoesel) #14

@ercowan75 I’d say you pretty much following industry best practices here, also good to read some of them are working.

For the challenges mentioned:

This is a real challenge and very difficult to tackle digitally. I know of two approaches:

  1. Anonymous questions:
    Make it know to members they can ask these questions by sharing them with to you, after which you post them without mentioning the author and try to scrub out details. The downside of this approach is that the OP can’t really answer questions or keep the conversation going without giving away the identity. I have yet to learn of a b2b platform that successfully has anonymous accounts (to be honest, the platform we build also doesn’t support it and I think the use case is too small to implement it).

  2. Trust circles / calls:
    Building a bit on @doctorj’s comment with smaller groups, trust to ask sensitive questions is much higher in smaller contained and private groups. We just rolled out private groups in our platforms and will need to start seeing how these work, but already we see members of communities consciously sharing specific topics inside a group instead of the entire community. This might be something to experiment with (I am not aware if Hivebrite’s groups can be private). You can take this concept offline as well, one of our customers does this in a concept called Circle of Trust and wrote a blog about it. This can be taken online as well by organizing private/invite-only group calls that are not being recorded.

I am always promoting the approach of making members feel comfortable to just ‘re-share’ interesting content, articles or videos they found online. If your platform auto-embeds videos and articles (like Facebook and LinkedIn do) a small post with a link can be a really valuable contribution.

Another approach is asking questions that don’t require expertise to be answered, like:

  • How did you get into the industry?
  • What is your focus this week?
  • What does your typical day look like?
  • Did you notice anything interesting in behavior that changed?

The majority is closed – and we’ve worked with many communities that are closed outside of exec groups. It can really be an asset, in one example we have even seen community activity drop once they opened up the community to the public.

Attracting new users is always an interesting way to boost numbers, as new members mean a clean slate and more voices to the conversation.

To boost numbers by attracting more members in closed communities:

  • Focus on a really good landing page which shows the benefits and how to be invited.
  • Make sure your community has a strong brand name to be remembered when members mention it outside the community (to avoid getting conversations like "I read something interesting in ‘Brand A’s community’ or in ‘some network I am part of’ " ).
  • Create a newsletter that’s public where you summarize or reshare the highlights of the community.

To boost numbers by building engagement in closed communities:

  • I think you are right it’s a numbers game and also requires great discipline to put in the effort and attention every day. It’s the purest way of building community but definitely challenging (and hopefully rewarding!)

Good luck with the community, I’d love to hear back in a few months if there are any tactics that are working and will share any findings I come across here as well!

(Emily Cowan) #15

Hi @joitske - you bring up a good point. Ours is primarily a live-events business and the community is intended as an opportunity to continue the discussion online. We just hosted a large event, resulting in an uptick of membership and engagement. Now I’ve just got to keep it going!

(Emily Cowan) #16

@robertvhoesel thank you so much for this generous and detailed response. I’ll keep you posted!